instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Discussion Guide for Deus Caritas Est

For what it's worth, here's the outline I used for a parish discussion introducing the papal encyclical:
  1. A Surprising Theme
    • Everyone knows God is love
    • Doesn't sound very Grand Inquisitorish
    • Doesn’t sound very meaty theologically
    • Why did he choose it?

  2. "God is Love"
    • What does "God is love" mean?
    • What does it mean to you?
    • Read selections from 1 John 4:
      Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.

      We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world.

      We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
    • What's the difference between "God loves" and "God is love"?

  3. St. Augustine
    • "God is Love"/"Love is God": draws a parallel between 1 John 4:7-8, "love is of God... God is love" and John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
    • Read from Homilies on the First Epistle of John, VII:
      "Love is God." What more could be said, brothers? If nothing were said in praise of love throughout the pages of this epistle, if nothing whatever throughout the other pages of the Scriptures, and this one only thing were all we were told by the voice of the Spirit of God, "For Love is God;" nothing more ought we to require.

      Now see that to act against love is to act against God. Let no man say, "I sin against man when I do not love my brother... and sin against man is a thing to be taken easily; only let me not sin against God. How do you not sin against God, when you sin against love?
    • Does "God is Love" mean "Love is God"?
    • What do you think of St. Augustine’s argument that sinning against man is sinning against God?
    • Read from Homily VIII:
      Love could not be more exceedingly commended to you than that it should be called God.
    • How is love commended to us today, and how do we commend it to others?

  4. The Catechism on "God is Love"
    • Read from the CCC:
      218 In the course of its history, Israel was able to discover that God had only one reason to reveal himself to them, a single motive for choosing them from among all peoples as his special possession: his sheer gratuitous love. And thanks to the prophets Israel understood that it was again out of love that God never stopped saving them and pardoning their unfaithfulness and sins.

      221 But St. John goes even further when he affirms that "God is love": God's very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.
    • How do we share God's "innermost secret" with each other and with the world?

  5. Pope Benedict, in a letter to Famiglia Cristiana
    • Read selections:
      Initially, in fact, the text might seem a bit difficult and theoretical. However, when one begins to read it, it becomes evident that I only wished to respond to a couple of very concrete questions for Christian life.

      The first question is the following: Is it possible to love God?; more than that: Can love be something that is obligatory? Is it not a feeling that one has or does not have? ...

      The second question is the following: Can we really love our "neighbor" when he is strange or even disagreeable? ...

      Finally, this question is also posed: With her commandments and prohibitions, does not the Church embitter the joy of "eros," of feeling ourselves loved, which pushes us toward the other and seeks to be transformed into union? ...

      In the second part there is talk of charity, in the service of the communal love of the Church toward all who suffer in body or soul and are in need of the gift of love. Two questions arise here above all: Can the Church leave this service to other philanthropic organizations?

      The second question: Would it not be better to promote an order of justice in which there are no needy, and charity would become something superfluous?
    • Do we already know the answers?

  6. The Introduction itself
    • Note backward procession of Scriptural references, from 1 John to John to Deuteronomy
    • "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person": recall the question, "Do you think of yourself as a disciple of Christ or a Catholic?"
    • Christianity is an encounter with love, so Christians must "speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others."
    • Can we speak of our own experiences in such rich terms as "lavishes"?

  7. Things to look for in the encyclical
    • The essentially "ecumenical" character of the Gospel of Love; what non-Catholics, non-Christians, and non-theists might agree with
    • Historical development in Revelation – "The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts" from the Old Testament (n. 12)
    • The twofold "response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us" that goes all the way back to the Garden